Where We Can Help: Illinois Student Misconduct

Are you a student or the parent of student at an Illinois school, college, or university facing a school-related issue or concern?  Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help. The world of academia is unique, and the Lento Law Firm has unparalleled national experience bringing its problem-solving approach and fighting spirit to address school-related injustice.  Attorney Lento and his Firm have helped countless students and families in Illinois and across the United States at the school level and in court.  Please click on the following links for more information.  Please also see our expanded list of school practice areas.

Joseph D. Lento has helped countless students and others in academia in Illinois protect their academic and professional future, and he can do the same for you.  Contact him today at 888-535-3686.

Illinois Student Misconduct and Student Rights

College should be an enjoyable experience, one of the most rewarding of your life. The people you meet, the experiences you have, and the knowledge you learn will amaze you.

Sadly, for some students, this means they learn how unfair the process of disciplinary action can be and how your school may even violate your legal rights. Many students are young and naïve. They are uncertain of their rights and may not even understand the accusations against them.

There are 59 public colleges and universities in Illinois and 53 private ones. These colleges and universities enroll nearly 750,000 students. Thousands of these students face disciplinary action every year.

When an Illinois school accuses a student of misconduct, the student can benefit from the protection of an experienced academic misconduct defense attorney. When a large university, like the University of Illinois, calls you in for an alleged misconduct violation, you may feel trapped. It might seem like you have zero options.

Fortunately, you do have options. You just need to partner with the right legal team to make sure you work strategically towards a successful outcome.

What Kinds of Misconduct Allegations Can an Illinois Student Face?

If there is one theme you will see surrounding alleged student misconduct, it's ambiguity. The school has virtually no limitations on what it can consider misconduct. Every college and university is free to create its own code of conduct for both students and faculty. A code of conduct at one school may differ greatly from another.

Because it is common for students to transfer from one university to another during their collegiate life, these arbitrary changes create confusion. This is just one reason why students may face charges of misconduct without even realizing they've done anything wrong.

Another reason why students may find themselves blindsided by misconduct allegations is that, although it is a student's responsibility to understand their school's code of conduct or course syllabus for example, students often do not familiarize themselves until after a mistake has been made or an offense has been committed. 

Defining Student Misconduct in Illinois Public and Private Schools

Student misconduct takes many forms. Some conduct centers on academic studies, like cheating, while other misconduct may take the form of behavioral misconduct. Unfortunately, there is not a single and clear definition of student misconduct across all colleges and universities.

In many ways, this is where the problem begins. There is not a shared understanding of what is and what is not student misconduct. So colleges and universities are free to make that determination themselves. They may not even share with you, the students, exactly what falls into the bucket of misconduct. Even if they do, it certainly will not be all-inclusive.

Illinois Public Universities

There are 59 public universities in Illinois enrolling nearly half a million students. The University of Illinois enrolls over ten percent of all students attending public universities in the state.

The public colleges and universities in Illinois are:

  • University of Illinois
  • College of DuPage
  • Illinois State University
  • Northern Illinois University
  • Joliet Junior College
  • College of Lake County
  • Moraine Valley Community College
  • Harper College
  • Southern Illinois University
  • Triton College
  • City Colleges of Chicago
  • Elgin Community College
  • Waubonsee Community College
  • Illinois Central College
  • Southwestern Illinois College
  • Western Illinois University
  • Oakton Community College
  • Northeastern Illinois University
  • Eastern Illinois University
  • Parkland College
  • McHenry County College
  • Lewis and Clark Community College
  • Rock Valley College
  • Lincoln Land Community College
  • Heartland Community College
  • Lake Land College
  • Morton College
  • Black Hawk College
  • South Suburban College
  • John A Logan College
  • Prairie State College
  • Kishwaukee College
  • Kaskaskia College
  • Chicago State University
  • Illinois Valley Community College
  • Kankakee Community College
  • Illinois Easter Community College
  • Danville Area Community College
  • Rend Lake College
  • Richland Community College
  • John Wood Community College
  • Carl Sandburg College
  • Sauk Valley Community College
  • Highland Community College
  • Spoon River College
  • Shawnee Community College

There are also many private colleges in Illinois. While many of them have much more leeway to write their own rules, even private colleges need to conform to certain standards. The (110 ILCS 1005/) Private College Act defines private schools, talks about the degrees they can confer and the fees they can assess. If you feel that your Illinois private college has treated you poorly, you may need to work in a different way to pursue legal options—but you do still have options. Your attorney-advisor will be able to help you determine the best way to proceed.

What Grievance Procedures Should I Expect as an IL College Student?

Every college and university may create its own process for handling a complaint from another student or faculty member. Some schools may keep the grievance confidential, while others may have no confidentiality requirements. The latter can be especially damaging to an accused's future, both academic and professional.

Sample grievance steps may include:

  • Accuser files a petition alleging either an academic or non-academic violation
  • Investigation by a school grievance committee
  • Formally notifying the accused and presenting the evidence collected
  • Hearing, where the accused is often not allowed to have legal representation
  • Grievance committee renders a decision
  • Possible appeal

But again, this is just a sample. Your school's grievance procedure may be entirely different. It may not even involve you in the grievance process until much later, possibly violating your due process rights. If your alleged misconduct occurred off-campus, you might wonder what jurisdiction your school even holds. Your school may be able to assert jurisdiction when two or more students are involved in a misconduct matter, even if that happened off-campus.

The only way to know for sure if your rights have been violated is to speak with a skilled and aggressive student misconduct lawyer. The right lawyer at your side can be vital to your ability to keep your life on track.

Typical School Discipline Options in Illinois

If a student is found to have violated the rules of conduct, the college or university may discipline the student. Common discipline options include:

  • Expulsion from extracurricular activities (like Greek life or sports)
  • Mandatory community service
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

The above list represents a fraction of what a university student may face if found guilty. When your education and future are at risk, you must work with a knowledgeable student misconduct lawyer who can help you take on the system.

The Appeals Process at Illinois Colleges and Universities

Just like codes of conduct differ between schools, each school may have a different appeals process. But every school must provide a student who has been found guilty of a code of conduct violation at least one opportunity to appeal their case. Many schools will require a new set of faculty members to hear any appeal, creating the impression of objectivity.

According to the University of Illinois Student Code, students have just five business days to provide notice that they wish to appeal the decision. The appeal process must then conclude within two weeks of the notice. Attendance at the hearing is restricted to only the appeal committee, made up of faculty and students, the accused, and their consultant. The term consultant is not defined but may include legal counsel, which would be advisable to have at your side during a contentious hearing. Your lawyer will be able to help you protect your rights.

The code of conduct also specifically states that formal evidentiary rules shall not apply. This means hearsay will be considered by the committee during the appeal process, as it was during the initial hearing. Once all evidence has been presented to the committee, they will provide a report within five business days.

The report will include:

  • An overview of the allegations and response
  • Summary of relevant information
  • A determination as to whether the student has met the burden of grounds for appeal
  • A recommendation to uphold, overturn, and adjust the penalties or sanctions imposed on the student

After receiving the report, the dean will then review the information and render a final decision. There is no specific timeline given for the dean to render a decision. Once the dean makes a final decision, the appeals process is over, and no more changes will be made.

The finality of this decision makes abundantly clear that you must take any allegation seriously. By having a trusted legal advisor with you every step of the way, you give yourself the best chance of a positive outcome.

Types of Student Misconduct You Might Encounter in Illinois

Generally, student misconduct is classified as either academic or non-academic misconduct. Academic misconduct involves cheating or violations of the school's code of conduct. These violations relate specifically to conduct guidelines set forth by the school. Many times, students don't even know they've committed a violation.

In some cases, especially if your school is in an urban area like Loyola, DePaul, and Northwestern, the police may even show up. Many times, especially in urban areas, the police just want to break things up and send people on their way and not send anyone to jail. Just because the police don't charge you with a crime, that doesn't mean you're off the hook with your school. You may still face reprimand, suspension, or expulsion from your school.

The most common student offenses giving rise to both academic and non-academic disciplinary actions include:

  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • Violation of the school's code of conduct
  • Underage drinking
  • Possession of illegal substances
  • Theft
  • Carrying a fake ID
  • Sexual assault and battery
  • Rape

Some of these, such as plagiarism, are actually governed under state law (as in HIGHER EDUCATION (110 ILCS 5/) Academic Plagiarism Act.)

Many students face this two-front battle alone. They fail to realize the gravity of the situation. By partnering with a student misconduct lawyer who has proven experience helping other students like you, you give yourself the opportunity you deserve to combat these legal issues and move on with your life. Without proper legal representation, these issues could weigh you down forever.

Unfortunately, student misconduct might not be the only thing you need to consider.

Illinois Laws that May Affect You as a College Student

When you move to Illinois to attend an Illinois public or private school, you may also have to abide by certain Illinois laws—especially if you spend a lot of time off-campus (e.g., if you live in your own apartment). While it's a good idea to learn more about all of the Illinois laws that may apply to you as a college student, some of the common ones are:

You should also know about the Illinois-specific statutes of limitations regarding actions that you may come into contact with. A statute of limitations defines the maximum amount of time after something happens that someone can initiate legal proceedings. This could involve someone coming after you for rent due a long time ago, for example—or it could also affect the amount of time you have to pursue legal action against your school.

Some of the relevant IL-specific statutes of limitations to know are, according mainly to §735 ILCS 5/13:

  • Injury to Person - 2 years
  • Libel or Slander - 1 year
  • Fraud - 2-5 years
  • Injury to Personal Property - 5 years
  • Collection on Debt - 5-10 years

While it isn't an Illinois-specific law, Title IX is a federal law that governs a specific type of disciplinary action at both public and private schools in Illinois. We'll talk about that next.

Title IX: Illinois Schools and Sexual Misconduct Legislation

One of the most complicated and misunderstood federal laws is Title IX. This law protects both employees and students at publicly funded schools from discrimination based on sex or gender. Illinois takes Title IX seriously. In fact, Illinois Compiled Statutes (110 ILCS 155/) Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act states that “all higher education institutions shall adopt a comprehensive policy concerning sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking consistent with governing federal and State law.”

Common issues giving rise to a Title IX complaint include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual assault
  • A school's failure to adequately investigate complaints of sexual misconduct
  • Gender discrimination
  • Unequal athletic opportunities
  • Unequal access to educational programs

When a person makes a complaint under Title IX, the college or university is required to provide that individual with adequate protection so they can continue their education. This may mean the school needs to change the student's schedule or housing situation.

For a student accused of a Title IX violation, this is where many schools drop the ball. While protection should be afforded to someone making a complaint, the same protections should also be afforded to a student who now has to defend themself from the allegation. This includes an absolute right to due process prior to the school determining the outcome of the violation.

Sexual Misconduct: What an Illinois College Student Needs to Know

College is often a place where lines are blurred between what's right and wrong. Students may experiment with their bodies and lose their inhibitions. While every instance of sexual misconduct can be terrifying and traumatic, not every sexual encounter rises to the level of misconduct.

It does not matter if a student was joking or trying to be entertaining. When your conduct was seen by another student as unwelcome, you may be accused of sexual misconduct. This type of behavior may include:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Voyeurism
  • Exposure
  • Sexting

Your school is likely to take these allegations seriously, and while there has been new guidance to suggest that fewer sexual misconduct allegations will be investigated, you still need to make sure your rights are protected. If your school determines that you violated a law or their code of conduct in your sexual behavior, you could face serious academic consequences, including expulsion.

Many students may think they can just transfer to another college or university. Unfortunately, that mark on your record will follow you, and it may even prevent you from getting into another school.

Not only can these actions violate your school's code of conduct and wreak havoc on your academic career, but they may also have lasting impacts on your professional and adult life. Speaking with a trusted student misconduct attorney can set you back on the right path.

Code of Conduct Violations at Illinois Academic Institutions

Every college and university in Illinois has a code of conduct. These codes differ greatly from school to school. However, the common component between all of them remains that a code violation can put your education and future at risk.

Your school's code of conduct may contain hundreds of possible violations. These may include:

  • Hazing
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Drug possession
  • Criminal activity
  • Academic dishonesty

Because these codes contain hundreds of possible violations, you may not even be aware that you have violated a specific code. The University of Illinois student code is 136 pages, for example.

When your school accuses you of a code of conduct violation, they will set a hearing. While it might seem like this process has no real consequences, the results of the hearing may play a vital role in your future. If you laugh this off, you may end up with a permanent mark on your academic record that could affect your ability to continue your education, keep your scholarship, get into a graduate program, and get a good job.

Your best approach if you face disciplinary action is to speak with a skilled student misconduct lawyer who can advise you on how to best protect your rights and your future. Wrongful violations and overly harsh consequences can follow you for the rest of your life.

Applying Due Process Rights to Illinois Schools

When you face a grievance complaint about a violation, your good name and reputation are at stake. The act of conducting a disciplinary proceeding alone may tarnish your reputation, let alone what might happen if a bad ruling comes down from the committee. Because your reputation is at stake, this triggers due process rights.

However, many schools won't tell you that. Today, colleges and universities are more concerned with their good name and reputation than their students. In many cases, the disciplinary proceeding is a formality meant to take swift action against an accused individual, without regard to that person's due process rights.

Why Due Process is Important for Illinois College Students

Under Title IX, you are guaranteed due process rights defined by law. However, when your school alleges a code of conduct violation, your rights are less clear. That's not to say those same due process rights don't exist. They do. But you may need the guidance of a knowledgeable student misconduct lawyer to make sure your rights are protected. How a school handles the due process rights of accused students can play a vital role in the outcome of the complaint.

Even when there is a code of conduct violation at issue or some other non-criminal act, students may have due process rights, even if the school does not tell them. Especially at public universities like the University of Illinois, you may be entitled to due process because the school is public and, under the law, a government actor. Your school might argue that the disciplinary hearing is merely a way for the school to correct poor behavior. In reality, it might be the school's attempt to thwart your due process rights, including your right to a lawyer, and against self-incrimination.

Every year, thousands of Illinois students face disciplinary action at their college or university. For many of these Illinois students, their lives may forever change because of the outcome. Penalties can range from a letter of reprimand to permanent dismissal from the university.

Due Process at College Hearings

Many students end up going through a traumatic hearing process without any due process consideration. Without a legal advisor at their side, students may unknowingly say too much. They may tell the hearing officer that they did what they are accused of, while not having a full appreciation for the consequences.

But it's important to note that even students have due process rights, especially those attending a public university. These students have a right to have their case heard under established procedures. That means the school must follow the grievance process, giving the student an opportunity to tell their side of the story.

However, the due process arguments you may see lawyers on TV making are not the same in a school setting. This is a travesty. Students do not have a right to confront their accuser, like in criminal court. The only way this happens is if the school's written process includes this as a step.

In a criminal courtroom, the evidence presented to make a case must meet a high standard. School grievance hearings tend to rely on hearsay evidence, something almost never allowed in a courtroom.

Most shockingly, unless specifically stated in your school's code of conduct, accused students may not be entitled to have a lawyer in the school hearing. But that doesn't mean a student misconduct attorney can't help you. Without a lawyer in the room, you could be unwittingly building a case against yourself by saying too much or saying the wrong thing, and that's why it's vital that you partner with a skilled student misconduct lawyer. Stick with us because this is going to get even more complicated.

When you attend a disciplinary hearing without a lawyer, you may speak too freely. Usually, lawyers rarely let their clients speak in a courtroom. Defendants often say the wrong thing or say too much. With young students in a disciplinary hearing, that may happen, too. If you say that you committed the violation or say that you had something to do with it, that creates a paper trail of evidence leading back to your involvement in the infraction.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law protecting the rights of students across the country. FERPA protects students from having their school disclose information about the student's educational record without the student's permission.

However, back to the paper trail, FERPA does carve out exceptions to this non-disclosure rule. FERPA allows colleges and universities to disclose student educational records without consent of the student or their parents to the following parties or under the following conditions:

  1. Other school officials with a legitimate educational interest
  2. Other schools where the student is transferring
  3. For audit
  4. Co-signers to a loan
  5. School accreditation organizations
  6. To comply with a judicial order
  7. To comply with a subpoena
  8. Illinois authorities

Several of these might strike you as important. What this means is that if a prosecutor wants to bring criminal charges against you, they can get copies of your disciplinary hearing statements where you may have inadvertently incriminated yourself in great detail.

Property Interests You May Encounter as an Illinois College Student

When you attend a hearing to defend yourself against allegations of student misconduct, you may not realize that you have property rights at stake. This might sound odd, but your education is your property.

When you take classes, get credits, and achieve a degree, not only is that valuable for your future, it's a property right you have in your education. Protecting that right is of the utmost importance and, if hindered, may negatively affect the rest of your life.

Liberty Interests

A more complex interest that you have, which is being infringed upon by the charges against you, is your liberty interest. Your liberty interests include your good name, reputation, honor, and integrity.

When a school alleges student misconduct, they are alleging the student has acted in a dishonest or dishonorable manner, putting the student's integrity at question. This serious allegation requires due process to ensure your rights are protected. And the best way to ensure your rights remain intact is to partner with a student misconduct attorney-advisor.

The Illusion of Due Process

In essence, due process rights for accused students at a college disciplinary hearing are simply an illusion. And that's the biggest reason why you need to partner with an experienced student misconduct lawyer. You may think it's just your academic career at stake. In reality, it could be your freedom.

Litigation Against Illinois Colleges: What Illinois Students Need to Know

It's entirely possible that your Illinois college or university has violated your rights as a result of a disciplinary action. When that occurs, you may be able to pursue legal options against your school. There could be many reasons you'd want to litigate against your school. If your school has mistreated you, has failed you, or has treated you poorly in any way, you do have options.

However, there's a strategic way to proceed when considering litigation against your school. First, you will need to exhaust your school's due process, to show that you have gone through the normal routes of resolution. Next, you may wish to register a formal complaint with the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which can show your school that you mean business. Your attorney-advisor can help you complete this process. After this, your lawyer may help direct you to any of the following types of claims against your school:

Due Process Claims

When a school imposes a restriction on you by taking away your property or liberty interest, they must provide you with due process. Your rights include receiving notice of what you're accused of and the ability to defend yourself against the charges. If you were never given written notice or, worse, never received a hearing where you could present your case in front of an objective audience, your school may have violated your due process rights and you could have a claim for damages against them. You must participate in the process, however, as you cannot claim your due process rights have been violated if you haven't participated in the process.

Title IX Claims

Title IX presents complex areas of the law. But with the right legal guidance supporting you, you may be able to prevail against your school under Title IX if you can prove one of the following for example:

  • The decision rendered was incorrect and evidence of gender bias in the decision rendered against you
  • Gender bias in statements made by the school
  • The school failed to follow appropriate procedure and its failure resulted in adverse consequences to you

Breach of Contract Claims

You may also argue that your school had a contract with you established through your college handbook or code of conduct. They breached the contract by failing to uphold their promises made to you in the handbook, code of conduct, or even other written materials.

Administrative Mandamus

State schools in Illinois are considered government actors. A writ of administrative mandamus provides you the opportunity to challenge a decision made by the state. When filing a writ, you're asking the court to vacate the school's decision because it was not supported by the evidence. Courts may look to internal factors such as whether the school provided a fair trial, if there was an abuse of discretion, whether the school acted beyond its jurisdiction, among many others. However, it's best to seek legal guidance as Illinois law provides for civil immunity of schools under certain circumstances.

Don't Wait - Get the Guidance You Need in Illinois Now

When you face a student misconduct issue at your college or university, there is more at stake than you realize. Sure, you may get a slap on the wrist, but if your school has taken the time to investigate the complaint and call you to a hearing, the consequences could be much more serious. You may be looking at suspension from school or possibly even expulsion. These items can follow you around for the rest of your academic life and may even prevent you from transferring to another school, even one outside of Illinois.

It is critical that you do everything possible to resolve this matter as favorably as you can. By partnering with a lawyer, you can make sure you have proper representation at your school disciplinary hearing. Even though a school hearing might seem informal and that you're just sitting down to chat with some faculty members, you must take this seriously. You have certain rights, and your legal advocate will help protect those rights by representing you at your grievance hearing.

Whether you face a complex Title IX violation or a code of conduct violation, the process ahead is more complicated than you realize. How you handle your next steps could affect the rest of your life. Get legal guidance as soon as possible. Help is just a phone call away. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm online or at (888) 535-3686 to learn more about how we can help you protect your academic career and your reputation.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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